Following the completion of decades-renovation project named as the world’s largest puzzle, the 11th century Baphuon temple was re-opened to the public on Jul 3, 2011 under a ceremony highly attended by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. We are as Cambodians would like to express our profound gratitude to France for completing the renovation project of Baphuon temple which had spent 10-million-euro funded by France.
Located at 400 meters northwest of Bayon temple, inside Angkor Thom, Baphuon temple was built in 1060 AD as the state temple of King Udayadityavarman II. Baphuon temple faces east in a direct line with the Elephant terraces at the north side, laying within a long enclosure of 425 m x 125 m, and borders the Royal Palace to the north. From the East entrance, Baphuon temple shapes like a big round mountain, while it’s a 37 meters mountain-temple (Prasat Phnom) with five levels. The fifth level height is 24 meters above the ground level. Each level had Gopuras at the cardinal points and has a corner tower at each sub-direction. Since it’s mountain shape, Baphuon was first built to symbolize mount Meru and house a Shivalinga for Hindu religious rituals of the King.
Zhou Da Guan, the Chinese diplomat who visited Angkor at the end of 13th century, has also described about Baphuon temple in his words that: ” North of the Golden Tower (Bayon Temple) at a distance of about two hundred yards, rises a Tower of Bronze, and even higher than the Golden Tower, a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.”
According to the stone inscription found around the temple said that, King Udayadityavarman II had constructed a golden mountain in the middle of his capital, and built a gold temple on it to house Shiva linga.
As long as we step in the temple from the east entrance, we would feel this temple is extremely unique from others. Visitors would walk on a raised causeway toward the temple. The raised causeway is supported by round pillars arranged in three rows, each row has 125 pillars and each pillars was made from a piece of big stone, without any joint. The whole causeway measures 172 meter, and about one meter raised from the ground. Walking on the raised causeway, though it’s just one meter high, I have got the feeling of great pleasure, in which I’m in a high position or a special person who have been admired or respected. The feeling of congratulating from people around who were walking on the ground.
At the middle of the causeway, there is a ruined pavilion. There are many scenes carved in small panels on its walls, though they are tiny but the carving clearly imposed its beauty with charm and highly characteristic of Baphuon style. At here I was paused by those tiny unique carvings, I feel the confidences and pleasures of the persons while carving, which has resulted in such beautiful sculptures. At this pavilion we can walk down from the causeway to both side through the staircase at the left and right. At the left of the pavilion on the causeway, there is a pond of 37m x 25m, built with proper staircases made of sandstone around it. It’s said that the pond was preserved for the king to bath for splendid. The water is so cool, I was somehow refresh by washing my face with this “sacred” water.
At the end of the causeway, there are three wide entrances, it’s the 3rd level of the temple with more remarkable carvings. The first attraction here might be the open lotus at the summit of the middle entrance tower. At the time of writing, Baphuon temple was completely restored, but it’s still not allow to climb the temple. Walking around, I noticed the base of the temple is extremely firm. Though the upper parts are mostly ruined and most stone are felt down to the ground, but I don’t think the base is going to ruin. It’s about six meters high or even higher. It made me think of the words of Zhou Da Guan about “more than ten chambers at its base”, perhaps there are mysterious chambers inside the base which haven’t been found. To the west of the temple, there is a 70 meters reclining Buddha, the work is not completed. This was added to the temple in the 16th century, while Buddhism has become Cambodia’s state religion. Nowadays, because of the ruin of the temple, the reclining Buddha is not easily visible without close attention. From here, there is another staircase to the higher level of the temple.
The whole temple was carving in small panels and on both sides of the walls. Most carvings are scenes from Hindu famous epic such as Ramayana (Reamke), Mahabharata (Moha Phearata), the life of Krishna, and other scenes from daily life of human and animals.
I walk around the temple and going back to the causeway, turn my back, standing there for a while, looking at the whole temple again, keep smiling while I don’t know what words to describe about Baphuon’s marvelousness.
Bas-reliefs of Baphuon Temple
The highly characteristic of the Baphuon style is the bas-reliefs are carved in small panels and each containing one scene. If it’s talk about a story, the carvings are read from bottom to top. The first part of carvings at Baphuon to be seen is at the pavilion of the causeway which carved animals, warriors, and men fights animals.
At the end of the causeway is the east entrance gopura of the third enclosure with three widely entrances. After this gopura, we are on the second level of the pyramid, with two libraries which remain only the bases. From here, turn left to the south gopura of this enclosure, its walls are decorated with more carvings of animal fighting.
Walk to the west of the temple, where a large reclining Buddha is laying, there is a stair set to the higher level from the middle of the Buddha figure. However, there is another wooden stair set from the south gopura which is easier to climb. The well known narrative bas-reliefs of Baphuon are on the gopuras of the third level (second enclosure).
On the west gopura are scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. One of the interest is a scene in which Arjuna receiving weapon from Shiva. On the north gopura are scenes from Battle of Lanka. On the east gopura, there are also scenes from Ramayana including the trial of Sita, the triumphal return to Ayodhya. Also on the east, more panels details from the Battle of Kurukshetra such as Bhishma on the bed of arrows. On the south gopura has scenes from Life of Krishna such as Krishna defeats the naga Kaliya, Krishna kills his uncle Kamsa. Besides these, there are many carvings about daily life such as hunting scenes, a woman playing with her child, hermits meditating in the forest, hermit help to cure the sickness, etc.